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New Zealand, 1993 (MIFF 1994)

Director: Gaylene Preston

Versatile director Gaylene Preston (Mr Wrong, Ruby And Rata) has managed to wend her bending way through yet another genre, bringing us one of the notable 'biopics' of this year's festival. Bread And Roses, a four-part drama based on the autobiography of Sonja Davies, New Zealand activist and parliamentarian, went through a seven-year gestation as a television script, and the TLC shows.

Covering a not insignificant slice of New Zealand history around World War II, Bread And Roses is epic cinema with plenty of textural muscle, minus any monumental machismo or conservative nostalgia. Genevieve Picot (Proof), in a lucid and moving performance, plays Davies, who goes from nurse to patient to member of the Hospital Board. Davies battles and survives a snag or two along the way: the army, the medical profession, government bureaucrats, the real demands of motherhood, and the double standards she confronts as a single mother in the 40s.

Throughout the film, Preston keeps her focus clearly on the particular. Her careful attention io detail extends even to the sparse sound composition which accentuates and amplifies the everyday. Despite the depth of Davies' disputes and deprivations, Preston seldom stoops to grand oppositions or sweeping generalisations. Sonja Davies' world is a constant negotiation of struggle and survival, of the persistency of spirit in the face of obstacles obvious and unforeseen. No institution is held sacred (including the labour movement), and in some circumstances even the most unlikely of allies can strengthen a cause.

Overall, Preston's beautifully realised work achieves a poignant sense of the effects of history on human desires, and women's changing expectations in particular.

See also...


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When Melanie (Rachael Blake, Lantana, MIFF 2001) goes home from the pub with the best looking bloke (Sam Neill) there, she is more than pleased with herself. After a night of revelry, she passes out ... More »


"You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh. The fundamental things apply..." ... If there is one thing that Gaylene Preston's new film tells us about the experiences of ... More »


“A classic New Zealand story, perfectly told.” - New Zealand Herald ... On his way home from rugby practice, Ed Preston joined the New Zealand army. He promised his pregnant wife Tui he'd be home ... More »


After suffering a long-winded sales pitch, Meg buys a Jaguar that will help her make the regular visit to her parents in the country. Meg. however, soon realises that the car is haunted by a ghost ... More »

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